Life, Death, Love and Freedom (2008)

1. Longest Days 2. My Sweet Love 3. If I Die Sudden 4. Troubled Land 5. Young Without Lovers 6. John Cockers 7. Don't Need This Body 8. A Ride Back Home 9. Without a Shot 10.Jena 11.Mean 12.County Fair 13.For the Children 14.A Brand New Song


It was always a bit of a downer that radio wasn't playing a lot of songs from artists that dominated the airwaves back in the seventies and eighties. A key irony is that many of these artists (Mellencamp, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bob Dylan, etc.) were putting out, arguably the best material of their entire career. For proof, one needs to look no further than this album. This is arguably Mellencamp's best album of his entire career. Of course, the songs really aren't that radio friendly to begin with, but that's beside the point. The real tragedy is that there are masses of people who have never been (nor ever will be) exposed to this album.

Mellencamp will always be Mellencamp. One should never expect him to be a cheery, happy guy. This is true here as well. What is different here, is that Mellencamp is much older than he was when he was Johnny Cougar, and these songs are mainly an exercise of one person coming to grips with their own mortality. He's getting older, and death is a lot closer than he would like. This seems to be the theme throughout the album, so it's not exactly an easy listen. O.K., he does sing a little bit about life, love and freedom, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if he would have just called this album "Death".

Fortunately the music here is excellent, which makes the music actually somewhat comforting to anyone else that may have the same thoughts running through their heads at an advanced age. You could easily make the argument that it sounds like the guy never really found happiness. Now that he's older, he seems to regret a lot of his past, but it sounds like he'll always be a bit of a long suffering guy. Then again, had he ever been a "cheery" fellow, he probably never would have had it in him to become the brilliant artist that he is.

Musically, Mellencamp has always been compared to such artists as Springsteen and Dylan. I could always see a slight similarity, but on this album, the differences are small. That's a good thing. Lyrically, I can hear Springsteen throughout this album, as Springsteen always sang about the poor and down-trodden as well. When Springsteen got carried away, he would let his lyrics take precedence over his music, which wasn't a good thing. This is where the Dylan influence takes over on this album. He manages to sound like "early" Dylan and exactly like "later" Dylan at the very same time, so the music here never suffers.

This is mostly a "quiet" album, but it's not going to put you to sleep either. The toned down approach helps the theme and the message of the songs, and you really have to admire the guy for wearing his heart on his sleeve for all to see. Anyone who ever doubted that this guy wasn't a musical genius need look no further than right here.

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